Moving Out of the College Dorm, for the Summer or Forever

Here is the best-kept secret about the college school year. It is about 15 minutes long. No sooner do kids return to college from spring break than they are ready to move back home for the summer. Moving into the college dorm or apartment was fun. The sheets and towels were new, the mattress topper was tightly packaged in its original box, and your college student was full of enthusiasm.  Moving out is not nearly so exciting.

Moving out of a college dorm
Moving out of a dorm room is not nearly as exciting as moving in.


This move back home has a distinctly different flavor. Now the dorm room is filthy with a layer of dust bunnies so thick you could scoop them with a spoon. Every article of clothing is dirty and strewn across every available surface. Moving out is the guerrilla move, the one that involves planning and hand-to-hand combat.

Moving out of a college dorm
Moving out of a dorm room is a dirty, dirty job.


Some might argue that kids should do this on their own, that this is their move, not ours, their parents.  But if you are like us, you have missed your college kids and are happy to have this small chance to help out. This is also a great opportunity to teach our teens and young adults about how to organize themselves for a move, and who wants to pass up a teachable moment?

So, Moms, Dads, deep breath, we are going in. Here are 11 steps to take to successfully move your kids from the college dorm back home for the summer or forever!

Moving Out of the College Dorm Room: 11 Step Plan of Attack

1. Coffee

If you show up in the morning with coffee, bagels or donuts, you will be a far more welcome presence. The night before was the last night of the school year and there is every chance that it was a late one. You child, his or her roommates, and any other parents around will be your new best friends when you come bearing Dunkin’ Donuts or the geographic equivalent.

2. Three piles

Before you arrive, ask your college student to think about three piles. Things they will need to use over the summer, items that will not be touched until next fall and those impulse buys that they never touched, didn’t really need, and should never have bought. If they separate their belongings into these piles before you arrive the whole move will go a lot smoother. However, if your kids are like mine, they will ignore you and have made no attempt at organization, and you will begin at square one after the Dunkin’ Donuts.

3. Discard

  • Even if they have not made the requisite piles, ask them to do this before you get there:
  • Separate their belongings from roommates (after a year this can be harder than it sounds)
  • Throw out trash, wrappers, old papers, bottle and cans and that includes the moldy contents of the tiny refrigerator
  • Return anything to the University that belongs to them and is not to be left in the room (sporting equipment or uniforms, library books…)
  • Collect any belongings they may have lent to other students or left in lockers or elsewhere
  • Arrange to have any rented items, small fridges, water coolers, etc picked up
  • Make a trip to the campus bookstore with textbooks to sell back. Otherwise lug them back home and sell them (and many other things) here on Amazon.

4. Dress for (moving) success

Dress for the part. It’s spring, it’s gorgeous you are visiting a college town. Resist all temptation to put on a pair of white jeans or sandals.  By the end of today you will be covered in sweat, dust and a layer of dorm filth that is beyond identification. Think Dirty Jobs meets Extreme Makeover and dress accordingly. If the day is searingly hot and sticky and you are considering dinner at a restaurant at any point before heading home, you might want a second set of clothing.

5. Packing genius

If you have not already discovered these blue IKEA blue bags when you moved your freshman into the dorm, it is time to get them NOW.  They will save your life for this move out since they are both incredibly lightweight and incredibly durable. Trust on this – buy a multi pack and you will thank us every time your kid moves.

Ikea Blue bags
IKEA blue bags are the secret weapon for move in and move out.


6. Need, Box for Next Fall, Never Used 

Make the piles – Need, Box for Next Fall, Never Used. If your student didn’t use an item consider throwing it out or leaving it. Moving things to and from school that they never touch is wasted energy. It is tempting for your kid to just blindly put it all in the car. It’s tempting for us to do that.

One of my sons and I moved a heavy blanket back and forth for four years, yet never opened the package. There were lots of people who could have used the blanket had we only donated it after freshman year. If your student has furnishings that have seen their full use and do not have a place back home, call GoodWill or Salvation Army to see if there is a day for campus pick up and make sure your kid gets them ready for that day. Quell all packrat tendencies and be ruthless in culling.

7. Pack, seal, store until fall

Pack according to need. Pack boxes of things that will not be touched all summer. They can be sealed, labeled and moved from the college dorm room to your basement and back again without being opened once and brought right back to school in the fall untouched. Bring a big marker to write on boxes. Our kids spend so much time online that they have few writing implements at hand.

8. Black garbage bags

Black garbage bags are another key to making this move happen with the least amount of stress and strain. Bring the whole box, your child’s roommates (and their parents) will thank you. Large black trash bags will do double duty as the function for which they were intended (there will be garbage, mountains of garbage) and as suitcases which fit, snugly and perfectly, into your car.

Moving out of a college dorm
Bring an entire box of garbage bags with you on move out day.

9. White garbage bags

For clothing items that you do not want to throw into black garbage bags, this solution is utter genius.   As the photo shows, some white tall kitchen trash bags for clothes on hangers is an easy way to move.  Just bring along a box of kitchen trash bags and masking tape, grab the whole lot, and off you go.

Moving out of a college dorm
Easiest way to transport hang up garments is in white garbage bags.

10. Ship

Your student’s belongings may not fit neatly into your car or the boxes they once used. Be prepared with the address, and hours of operation, of the closest UPS or FedEx before you leave home and bring along some shipping-ready boxes. You may have to shuttle a few loads to ship back before you pack up the car for the ride home.

11. Store

Research on-campus or local storage options before you plan the big move. Moves don’t come cheap and, in a mere three months, you are going to reverse this process. In some cases it might be less expensive to just store the stuff locally. Or does your student have a friend who lives in town whose parents would not mind storing a box or two in their basement?

The good news? You are going to get out far quicker than you got in. The bad news, it won’t be pretty. Yet we have found along with the chaos, the filth and the logistics, these are wonderful days spent alongside our near adults and we wouldn’t trade that for anything.

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About Grown and Flown

Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa (Endlich) Heffernan are the co-founders of Grown and Flown the #1 site for parents of teens, college students and young adults, reaching millions of parents every month. They are writers (Lisa is a New York Times bestselling author), moms, wives and friends. They started the Grown and Flown Parents Facebook Group and are co-authors of Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults (Flatiron Books) now in paperback.

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